The start of our 1999 Winisk to The Bay trip. Geoffrey Peake carries a canoe which was just unloaded from VIA Rails The Canadian which is seen heading west. Taken Aug 1999 at Savant Lake. (Photo - Michael Peake)

The Importance of Logistics


There's an old joke about planning an expedition. The pre-planning and organizing is 90% of the work. Actually doing the trip is the other 90%. There's little doubt that the further north you go in Canada the logistics get more tangled and expensive. If money were no object it would be relatively easy to get anywhere you want. Getting people to the right spot, on time, is tough enough but dragging a few canoes along with you makes it all the more difficult.

The problem is remote locations usually require a charter flight which means money and uncertainty. Another factor is suddenly finding yourself in the Northern Time Zone. This is not found on any chronograph -- it exists in the minds and movements of those who work in the north. This is not a criticism but simply the acknowledgment of working in a world where the vagaries of weather, time and safety throw a wrench into the well-ordered world of we southern inhabitants.

The first time we paddled down the George in 1983 was a logistical nightmare -- off the river. The Quebec North Shore & Labrador train north to Schefferville from Sept-Iles had changed its schedule soon after sending us one in the mail. We arrived 12 hours after the previously twice a week, and now once-a-week, train departed! Down, but not out, we quickly made for the airport where a plane was about to depart to Labrador City -- more than half the distance we had to go. With minutes to departure we paid for the tickets and they hauled the canoes and bags into the baggage area. As we prepared to board, my rudimentary knowledge of French overheard one of the baggage handlers talking to themselves about "les canots" being too long for the plane -- by three inches! We shouted for them to take all the packs off and slunk back to the airport in deep funk. The gloom worsened when we found out what a DC-3, the only available plane, would cost to charter -- we told them we wanted to rent it not buy it!

The entire trip was dissolving before our eyes, so we dragged ourselves to a local restaurant in Sept-Iles to figure out our next steps. During lunch a man at a neighbouring table asked with a chuckle if we had missed the train. He listened thoughtfully to our sad story, paused a moment and remarked, "You know fellas, there's a work train that goes up tomorrow night." We were on the phone to the railroad in a flash, and amid promises about doing several glowing stories on wilderness rail travel in Quebec, we're headed north the next day.

This amazing coincidence would seem one in a million -- but it is a common occurrence with northern travel. And maddeningly, you can't plan for it!

For Labrador Odyssey, we require three forms of transportation: land, air, and water. Of course all our connections have assured us that everything is running smoothly and they'll get us there on time. But, you know, I'll believe it when I'm on the beach at Hebron because I've heard it all before.

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